in mixed company

I’ve started doing some things with the KSG (Katholische Studentengemeinde) here in Dresden. I found in Freiburg that joining the Catholic student group was a wonderful way to meet friends and have some sort of social life while studying abroad, so I made sure to find a similar group here in Dresden once I arrived. Of course, no Catholic community is ever PERFECT or everything you’d want it to be, but everyone I’ve met so far has been lovely.

A Hungarian, two Germans, and two Americans climb up a mountain...

So a Hungarian, two Germans, and two Americans climb a mountain…

This past weekend, I went out to the Saxon Switzerland for a weekend with some KSG folks in Struppen. The KSG has a house out there, which was donated by the Diocese a number of years ago to be used by the students from Dresden, and a group goes basically every weekend. I enjoyed a few days of fellowship, food, nature, and manual labor… and it was wonderful! Everyone was so welcoming and warm, especially because it was a designated weekend for new people. It was about 60% students who are new to Dresden/the KSG, and 40% people who have been around for awhile, so it was a nice mix.

A beautiful view of the Sächsische Schweiz

A beautiful view of the Sächsische Schweiz

Something interesting that’s come up as I’ve met more people in Dresden and the KSG is the issue of language. I don’t necessarily have many problems anymore socializing in German… I’m generally pretty comfortable with it. But what’s really weird is switching between English and German. For instance, at the Neuenwochenende in Struppen, although most people were German, there were also 5 international students including myself: two from the US (myself and Flitzi), one from Hungary, one from France, and one from Britain. Of course, when I was speaking to one of the German students, we would speak German; and even with Geoffroy from France or Domi from Hungary, since we don’t share a native language, speaking (flawed) German was the natural choice.

Felsen

Felsen

 

But if I would be talking to Flitzi, especially since we often see each other one-on-one and obviously speak English, or Flitzi and our new British friend Nathaniel, of course our first instinct would be to speak English… but what if there were some other German friends around? Should we try to speak German? But then we’d run into things in the course of our conversation that would just be EASIER to say in English… or someone would point out how ridiculous it would be for two Americans and a Brit to stand around speaking German, or a German would want to practice their English… the list goes on. It was just a very linguistically interesting weekend. Flitzi and I would have an English conversation, only to change to German when we joined someone else’s conversation, and then start speaking German just between us.

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And then, of course, language quickly becomes the topic of conversation!  Viki, one of the German girls I’ve befriended, worked as an au pair in Maryland for a year, and she prefers American to British English (she actually goes as far as to say she thinks American accents are beautiful! I’ve never heard that one before!). So naturally, while hiking 14 kilometers, we thought of as many differences between British and American English as we could and made fun of Nathaniel about them for a while. To his credit, he did maintain that saying “lift” instead of “elevator” is just economical, as is “flat” for “apartment.” I guess that’s accurate.

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Apparently there’s a psychological concept called “mental load” that maintains that when the brain processes a certain amount of information, it begins to get fatigued. And one of the main ways that a brain can get tired is by regularly switching between languages! It’s kind of like lifting weights with your brain! And it is an active deterrent against dementia. Considering the state of my memory–I lost a debit card in August because I forgot to take it with me after paying at a restaurant, I left all of my drugstore purchases at the register last week and didn’t realize it until I got home, and today I almost forgot my lunch after paying for it–I guess a year abroad is exactly what I need 🙂

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